“Attache ta tuque!” say Quebeckers when they mean ‘get ready for heavy action!’ or ‘fasten your seat belt!’ Pull your tuque down snug on your head because things are going to get crazy. You’ll need the snuggest tuque que possible, mon gars.
Canada’s National Hat & The Origin of the Word Tuque
Over the centuries many preposterous hats have been offered as solutions to the problem of keeping Canadian noggins cozy in winter. None suits this Canuck better than the tuque, a knitted wool cap invented by anonymous European sailors who pulled large socks over their foreheads to keep warm at sea ― at least so goes one tale about the genesis of tuque and its claim to have begun as nautical headgear.
The lowly tuque (or toque) has survived being tasselled, bobbed, debobbed, plastered with commercial logos of NHL hockey teams, and tarted up in fluorescent glow-in-the-dark colours. Buck-toothed, cocaine-perfused yokels don tuques. So do moguls buffaloing down Toronto’s Bay Street through blizzards. So do drum-machine rappers mixing misogynist ditty tracks in a recording studio.
The word tuque is Québécois French, a slight variant of toque which in France meant a cap that knocked (toquer) against the back of the neck or shoulders because it had a long, droopy end. The French word and a similar Italian word, tocca ‘cap’, were imported from Spain in the fifteenth century (Spanish toca) to describe a pageboy haircut actually worn by pages.
Some dictionaries state that the Spanish toca is of unknown origin. I don’t agree. Tocar in Spanish means ‘to touch.’ The pageboy bangs hung down and touched the shoulders, like the end of the sock cap, the ‘touch’ cap, la toca, our tuque, that came along a little later. In Spain la toca also named a female hair style, a high female head-dress and a large kerchief worn at the back of the head that ‘touched’ (Sp. tocar) the lady’s shoulders.
The Tuque is Part of Christmas Symbology
Perhaps the most widely disseminated tuque is the floppy red tuque often worn by Santa Claus, much evolved from a Dutch sailor's black sock cap. Indeed, in some early drawings of Santa Claus, his hat is black.
Interesting email response about tuque:
"Santa is wearing one, but the tuque evolved from clothing worn in eastern Europe and traded by Scandinavians. It can be seen as a head dress in the uniforms of Hungarian cavalry, then as adopted across Europe by Hussar and Death's Head regiments. They wore silk pants (with black boots), tunics trimmed with fur at hems and cuffs, a “Santa hat” trimmed in fur around the brim and a fur tassel on the peak.
The busby worn by British palace guards is a highly stylized version where the fur trim of the hat completely dominates it. There may be, and there are in other such styles, a peak with a tassel on it hidden in the top of the busby. The peak itself survived into the 20th century military, a version of which is a hat with the peak and tassel reduced to a triangle of cloth with a tassel attached, sewn flat to the side of a garrison cap. A photo exists of Francisco Franco wearing such.
Toque not Toque?
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary insists that toque is the common English Canadian spelling. I suggest that this form has been almost totally replaced since the 1980s by the French Canadian spelling. I see chiefly tuque in print in Canadian newspapers and Canadian sports stories.
The COD also offers this bizarre and unsupported etymology: “ultimately from a pre-Romance form like tukka ‘gourd, hill.’ Wheeeeeeee! Let’s riffle through all the dictionaries and madly grab at anything remotely similar. Of course, I haven’t personally spoken to any pre-Romantics…lately.
The snuggly headgear even appears on the map of Canada. La Tuque in Québec received its name from a riverbank cliff that resembled tuques worn by early fur trappers.
Sometimes A Toque is not a Tuque
A toque is the familiar white hat of French chefs, today often made of paper.
The semi-literate, gobbledy-mouthed Wikipedia entry on tuque states with imperious authority that “The word tuque is not etymologically related to the name of the chef’s toque.”
Except that it is THE SAME WORD.
It is the same hat word descended from the same French toque from the same Spanish toca and Italian tocca. In the snootier French tomes of cookery the hat is sometimes referred to as la toque blanche. But those cookbooks also recommend a brick wall and a firing squad for anyone who buggers up béchamel sauce.
Returning briefly to the toque/tuque gaffe, once again in Wikipedia we have the spectacle of some letterless yoyo pining to pontificate and having nothing to pontificate with, namely: knowledge, brains, or the ability to write graceful explanatory prose. But, as always on Wiki, that never stops the Grade 3 graduates from keying in pages of vapid twaddle Swiss-cheesed with error.
A Few Alternate Names for Tuque
In USA: rap cap, skullie, watch cap (a borrowed British Navy term), knit hat
New Zealand, Australia: beanie (has other meanings as well as toque)
Infamous Wearers of Tuques
The tuque, aka ‘rap cap’ or ‘knit hat’ is the headgear of choice for chic brigands conducting liquor store robberies. In America, the well-dressed felon is seldom without his skullie.
For fifty years African-American and Latino urban gangsters have favored the knit hat as a badge of ill will and a token of homicidal bullying. Naturally gangsta rap and several other subsectors of modern life have borrowed the tuque as symbol of a dubious machismo.
Persons of Renown Seen Betuqued
Yes, I coined the verb to betuque ‘to wear a toque, to put on a tuque.’
Canada’s Very Own Celebration of Moronism:
Bob & Doug McKenzie
If you liked Bob and Doug, you never have to take an IQ test.
You already know you’re an imbecile.
You watch wrestling too, don’tcha?
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
Email from a reader: March 4, 2012:
At any rate, I've now bookmarked it.
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